Sarah Cox began her automotive career path at a graduate fair, undeterred after speaking to someone at a car manufacturer’s stand who told her automotive was a “male-dominated industry ‘love’” and that she shouldn’t bother trying to apply. Sarah saw this as a challenge and from that moment on wanted to prove him wrong. After a successful application, she started as a graduate in the parts department of a dealer and fell in love with the industry straight away. “It’s the variety and the dynamism that really appeals to me as well as the cars themselves. These are emotional products”.
“Later, a key moment for me was being in a Sales and Marketing role for the launch of the new MINI – my first marketing role. I loved it. From there, I realised that I wanted to work in Head Office, and was head-hunted to work within Audi UK. I started as an Area Sales Manager, then I ran the Training Academy, and then moved into marketing. And, since then, I always gravitate back to marketing, including, of course, my current role. Because of my rounded background, working in numerous areas of the business, I like to think of myself as a more ‘commercial marketeer’”.
One day to the next is never the same for Sarah, and always hectic! Sarah is currently exclusively based from home due to the pandemic, which means frequent back-to-back video calls with her team and with headquarters. With constantly changing issues, topics and projects Sarah is always kept on her toes.
“That’s what really motivates and inspires me: the dynamic, changing landscape of this industry. Having worked in Volkswagen Group across different brands makes you realise how they all offer contrasting cultures and customer propositions. But another major source of motivation is working in this new, EV era – it feels like so much more than just selling a new exciting car. It is about a movement and an authentic shift because this industry has to change. We are all working to reduce our CO2 emissions and become more sustainable for the future. And working in the more operational side fires me up even more than at a solely strategic level. I like to be close to the customer, roll my sleeves up and get involved! The people in this industry are also great – full of passion for what we produce and what we do.”
Sarah has said the perception of EVs has changed hugely since she has started in the industry. Sarah recalls that there was a gradual emphasis on fuel efficiency coming through in the early 2000s, but in the last 3-4 years EVs have dominated, particularly with the UK Government’s 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and also the pledge by Volkswagen to be net carbon neutral by 2050 globally. One of her major responsibilities as a marketing professional is to influence the perceptions people may have on EVs and tell the positive stories around electric cars and, more specifically, Volkswagen’s industry-leading ambitions on our ‘Way to Zero’.
“I don’t think at the moment gender plays a major factor in the demographic of early EV adopters. The biggest change we are seeing in society is this shift towards responsibility and an emphasis on personal values – and also thinking about future generations, and not just our own.”
There are some exciting projects coming up for Volkswagen UK, including the ID family. Sarah says this is one of the main pleasures of her job – to take them to market. “A challenge comes in the customer journey, as people view EVs differently to petrol and diesel vehicles – so we’ve had to learn and adapt to what customers need on that journey to electric. “
In terms of women working in the motor industry – especially in senior roles – Sarah highlights the well-documented belief that women tend to apply only for roles where they tick every single box of the criteria, while men are much more likely to be confident enough to apply for a role, even if they have no relevant experience in certain areas.
“What we have to do is work with the talent pool and the pipeline and make sure that we are supporting the young generation from the very beginning of their careers. And that’s why I make sure I book in so much time to mentor and have career-focussed conversations with young females in our business. This approach is a very positive step on the way to having a much diverse workforce at senior and board level.”
One of Sarah’s biggest life-lessons is to take control of your career path. “Nobody else is going to do this for you, so look at what you’re good at, what gets you up in the morning and where you want to get to – then put together the right roadmap to get there.”
“There are more roles now opening up in sustainability areas of the business – but actually in truth the shift touches all of us. We all have to consider this move to a sustainable business. For example, the retailer marketing team has to look at the recyclability of materials used in retailers, or we have to ask the environmental credentials and policies of our suppliers. All future roles will be focussed on sustainability.”